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Multitasking isn’t a solution. It’s a problem.

So says Carmine Coyote, a blogger and foe of “hamburger management,” a debased form of leadership that looks faster and cheaper.

According to Coyote, multitasking contributes to heavy workloads by layering on multiple, often inconsequential tasks. People describe its practitioners as “go-getters.” But multitasking often happens in the shadows of bullying bosses and insufficient budgets.

What is multitasking? It’s a form of mental juggling, trying to handle two or more things at once. People who do it often switch back and forth quickly or rush to complete jobs in short bursts. They take work home, lose sleep and wreck their concentration. They lose productivity.

You can give 100% of your attention to only one thing. Evenly divide your attention across two tasks and the most you can give each one is 50%, otherwise known as half your attention. Or maybe one task gets 70% and the other gets 30%. Any way you slice it, you’ll never give 100% of your attention to it. As noted in the journal Nature, switching attention to something new necessarily means taking it away from something else.

Even if you oscillate between tasks, each task gets less attention because it takes the human mind a few minutes to process transitions.

Like the majority of Americans who spend more than they earn, multitaskers delude themselves into thinking they possess more than 100% of their attention. Sooner or later, they’ll find themselves in debt.

The real solutions:

Keep your people focused on only three main goals. Every task should serve one of those three (and no more than three) goals, and each employee should strive to complete only one task at a time.

Suggest limits on instant messaging and e-mail, and when you make an assignment, discuss what will be set aside to make room for it.

Show encouragement; it will help your people stay on track.

—Adapted from “Accept it: you can’t concentrate on two things at once,” Carmine Coyote, The Coyote Within, www.slowleadership.org.

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